Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Celebrating Marion Brown

Marion Brown (sax; b. Sep. 8, 1935 - October 25, 2010)
Three For Shepp (Impulse)

Today we celebrate the highly under appreciated saxophonist, Marion Brown who passed away on Monday. This is an entry I did a few weeks ago but I wanted to share it again for those you may not have had a chance to explore the music of Marion Brown.

Marion Brown embodied a lovely, soft tone on alto sax. Many jazz fans will know his work on John Coltrane's Ascension but Brown's own work much more understated. He didn't necessarily fit into the free jazz realm as much as his contemporaries.

Born in Atlanta, he moved to New York in the late 60s when later he would join Coltrane on the aforementioned Ascension. Brown would develop an extensive body of work from '65 - '71 that was both conservative and free form. While his work on Ascension and some later albums for both ESP and Fontana were high intensity and bold statements of intent, his overall tone was more empathic. Over the course of his career Marion Brown has worked with Mal Waldron, Anthony Braxton, Andrew Cyrille and even Jon Hassell.

My personal favourite and probably the one most critics would pick as the best representation of his work is Three For Shepp (Impulse; 1966). Three For Shepp is a tribute to his friend and musical partnership with saxophonist, Archie Shepp--who in addition to Ornette Coleman was a major influence on Brown. They had both played on Ascension and also worked on each others albums while both were signed for Impulse Records. The albums six tracks are divided into three Shepp compositions and three written by Brown. Three For Shepp is a classic document of the free jazz period with a bright mixture of tones and structure that runs the gamut of blues, Latin and swing wrapped in a swirling African motifs.

Brown's own "Fortunato" and Shepp's "Spooks" are powerful statements of his talent and distinct vision that make Three For Shepp an adventurous and frenzy outing. While there are other free jazz albums from this period that made a significant and longstanding statement of jazz history, Three For Shepp is one of the unheralded masterpieces that needs to be re-examined and rediscovered by a new generation.

For the last few decades Marion Brown has been a teacher of jazz and very very rarely performing as a session member. He has had several illnesses in recent years but he is still moving along. Today is his birthday and you should do yourself a favour in the next few hours, days and weeks and seek out one of his records. Take a listen for yourself. You won't be disappointed by Marion Brown.

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